By Margo Crawford
By design or by default, the pressure for associations to transform and adjust to new realities is intense. Member and stakeholder expectations are intensifying; they are demanding value in the services they need or want, and in the way they want to experience and use them. And, of course, enabling technologies are accelerating everyone’s access to information with intelligent platforms that provide relevant and real-time solutions.
In this climate of disruption to business models that have held strong for years, small- and medium-sized associations are well-positioned to leapfrog larger organizations into the future state of work. They can do so because they are already under significant pressure to think and organize differently. Creatively leveraging alternate business models, adopting accelerating technologies and organizing into unconventional workplaces is not just an opportunity—it’s becoming a necessity. In contrast, organizations that are hanging onto old structures and business models replicated from big companies— with fewer resources – are at risk of becoming irrelevant. This context presents opportunities for bold organizations and threatens those digging in their heels and conforming to past models.
During my session at the CSAE Annual Conference & Showcase, we will delve deeply into the new realities faced by associations and offer strategies for adapting to ensure resilience and sustainability.
Technology including Software as a Service Platforms and Engagement
Certainly, the surge of Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms are increasingly automating business processes—but these platforms are also designed to work in smaller enterprises at affordable price points. The era of large enterprise resource planning (ERPs) or customized software is fading, being replaced by excellent subscription and cloud-based platforms to manage both highly complex and routine business processes.
Perhaps more significant than SaaS platforms is the emergence of engagement technologies that link external resources directly to an organization, contributing to what they create or services they offer. These enabling platforms create new opportunities for organizations to extend beyond conventional corporate boundaries. They can reach communities to help generate ideas, collaborate on solutions, and add additional skills or knowledge when needed.
Topcoder’s crowdsourcing platform, for example, connects developers around the world to work on projects for organizations like Harvard Medical School, Google, eBay, and IBM. Other examples include crowdsourced idea management platforms that allow businesses to connect with, and engage, their external stakeholders—allowing partners, customers, or members to generate ideas and collaborate on solutions.
Finally, the large amounts of data and ease of access to information are accelerating the ability of artificial intelligence to take on more tasks in both our personal and professional lives. Organizations will have to sharpen their focus to determine the specific skills and experience needed from people on their teams versus the routine tasks or processes to manage large amounts of data that are ideally suited to AI.
People and Demographics
With an aging population, increased competition for talent, and values shifting towards balanced lifestyles, employees are making more intentional choices about how they will work and the type of employer they will work for. The idea of company loyalty or job loyalty is in steep decline, with average length of tenure lower than five years—compared to a lifetime employment of 30 years. More individuals at all ages and career stages are making the choice to work in situations that suit their current lifestyle and quickly change as their needs shift.
Additionally, as technology supports remote and virtualized working, we are seeing the rise of freelancing as a viable career choice. The notion of becoming an entrepreneur as a self-employed and independent resource to service on-demand talent requirement needs is becoming mainstream. People are simply not leaving the fate of their career in the hands of employers selecting and hiring individuals for their team. Rather, they are crafting their destiny by servicing multiple opportunities, and often de-risking their prospects by having their eggs in several baskets with the potential for more lucrative earning potential.
New Business Service Models
Virtual teams that can supply organizations with non-core capabilities are increasingly feasible given technological advancements. These teams of CFOs—as well as HR and marketing professionals—bring experienced talent to organizations in the right amount and frequency that match the true needs of the organizations. Other new models offer smaller organizations the opportunity to share real estate, business infrastructure, and other tools—not to mention the invaluable opportunity to share ideas, knowledge, and new ways of partnering through the emergence of co-location spaces such as hubs, accelerators, and incubators.
Organizations increasingly face smaller pots of funding, with more demand or competition for those funds and tighter limitations on spending. There is less money for administration overhead as funders direct dollars towards specific programs and activities, or upon hitting key milestones and events. Not-for-profits and high-tech start-ups, in particular, have fewer channels available to build and sustain value—poising them to be the ultimate benefactors of the highly flexible new service models mentioned in the previous section.
Expectations of Stakeholders
Wearing too many hats quickly erodes the performance and capabilities of individuals in their primary roles and the add-on tasks. Funders, members, customers, shareholders, and boards of directors are looking for clear and distinctive value. Whether it’s funders requiring specific deliverables or milestones as conditions for further funds, or activist shareholders elevating transparency and performance expectations, everyone on the team has intensified pressure to optimize performance and bring out their (and the organization’s) fullest potential.
What can Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) do to Embrace the Future?
Predictions are that 80 to 90% of the economy is susceptible to disruption—and there is no middle ground. In this context, SMEs have an excellent opportunity to leverage some of the features of best-in-class, forward-looking organizations to accelerate their performance.
Rethink How to Add Value
With enabling technologies and gamification platforms, there are new opportunities not just to connect with communities, but to engage with them to create ideas and collaborate on solutions.
Look for Smart Sharing Opportunities
Co-location spaces and shared infrastructure allow SMEs to leverage the energy, knowledge, and creativity of communities.
Create Refined Organizations
Organizations should question which functions are vital to adding value, and then which functions are business operations, processes, or intermittent in nature. Outside of an organization’s core competencies, there are new opportunities to use virtual or fraction teams in business operations functions such as finance, HR, and marketing. Crowdsourced talent or freelancers can also be leveraged for pieces of work or tasks on projects.
Consider Unique Partnerships
When information is abundant, what you do may or may not be unique. Partnering with other entities that offer either complementary or tangential offerings can be an opportunity to create exponential value.
Change is inevitable but the opportunities for SMEs are great. Those that choose to intentionally design their organizations for the future will become the disrupters.
1: Salim Ismail, interview with Jacob Morgan, The Future of Work Podcast, podcast audio, February 26, 2015.
2: Ismail, The Future of Work Podcast.
Join Margo for a deeper exploration into this topic at the 2018 Annual Conference & Showcase. Don't miss Small and Mighty: The Future State of Work for Associations.